If you’re thinking, “Cuba or bust!”—not so fast; U.S. law prohibits American citizens from pursuing touristic activities in Cuba in the traditional sense. That said, the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) policy allows travel to the island under 12 categories, including “humanitarian projects,” “support for the Cuban people” and “people-to-people” travel. If you’re now thinking, “Awesome, I’ll just go volunteer,”—not so fast, again. The lack of volunteer infrastructure in some parts of Cuba makes it a little difficult for individuals to pursue humanitarian endeavors there independently, so the best way to volunteer is via an organized program.*
Pick a cause, any cause
OFAC’s “humanitarian projects” category includes, among others types of volunteer work, healthcare and medical projects; environmental projects; educational projects that focus on literacy, business or other topics; and construction projects that benefit “legitimately independent civil society groups.” OFAC policy also allows Americans to visit Cuba for “people-to-people” activities that foster meaningful interaction and cultural exchange between travelers and the Cuban people. Use your interests and expertise to determine which type of projects you would like to devote your time to.
Find an organization
Some non-profit organizations enlist volunteers to provide goods and services to Cuban people in need. The lengths of programs vary from one week to several weeks and have fees of several thousand dollars, which typically cover lodging and some meals, among other expenses. Some organizations focus on delivering provisions directly to hospitals, clinics and individuals. While others, such as , offer the opportunity to spend up to six weeks in Cuba as a volunteer English teacher. These types of non-profits fall under OFAC’s “people-to-people” license.
Paperwork for traveling to Cuba
In order to enter Cuba, you’ll need a government-issued passport that is still valid for the length of stay, as well as a visa, which an airline like JetBlue can help you obtain. The Cuban government also requires visitors from abroad to have non-U.S. health insurance, which is included in the fare on jetblue.com**. When you travel to Cuba as part of an organized volunteer program, the fees often include the cost of health insurance.
Packing for Cuba
Packing is an essential part of planning any trip; however, it is even more important when traveling to Cuba, where a lack of consumer goods means you probably will not be able to purchase items that you forget. When packing for a humanitarian trip to Cuba, be mindful to take ample supplies of any prescription medications you take, in their original containers, as well as a spare set of prescription glasses or contact lenses. It is also wise to carry a first aid kit that includes antiseptics, pain killers and anti-diarrhea medications. Sunscreen is also hard to come by in Cuba, so pack plenty of it, along with insect repellent.
*The materials available at this web site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice.
**Subject to receipt of government-operating authority